IN THE FIRST month of the new police helicopter provision alone, there were three incidents when air support was not available according to data unearthed by Plaid Cymru.
In early January, following the retirement of the police helicopter, Dyfed-Powys Police made fourteen requests for air support. Two of these resulted in a helicopter responding and on three occasions there was no response for what was described as ‘other reasons’ by a recent media release from the Police and Crime Commissioner’s office. However, Plaid Cymru launched a blistering attack on Police and Crime Commissioner Christopher Salmon, after their Freedom of Information request showed that the requests for air support were refused due to no assets being available, insufficient flying time to be able to attend and due to NPAS already being committed in Gwent.
The Police and Crime Commissioner’s Office released the combined figures for January and February, meaning that it is impossible to analyse how many requests were cancelled due to bad weather, or the incident being resolved by officers on the ground. A Plaid Cymru source told The Herald that while no information concerning response times had been provided, it was likely that a proportion of incidents had been resolved on the ground because it had taken ‘much longer’ for air support to be despatched. Reference was also made in the Police and Crime Commissioner’s statement to a ‘counter-terrorism exercise in Milford Haven’ as one of the incidents where the NPAS helicopter attended.
The only comparable incident mentioned in January/February was a preplanned combined-forces training exercise at the Port of Pembroke on January 7. If this was the exercise referred to, it would mean that an NPAS helicopter attended one out of thirteen unscheduled incidents. Last year the Police and Crime Commissioner, Christopher Salmon, signed up the local police force to a centralised National Police Air Service (NPAS) – a move which saw the dedicated helicopter for Dyfed-Powys scrapped on January 1 this year. Commissioner Salmon had justified his support for a centralised service as a way to save money and to have more resources available to the force.
He hailed the benefits of a 24-hour service despite Dyfed-Powys only needing helicopter support ‘after hours’ just 13 times in four years – a point raised by local MP Jonathan Edwards in a Westminster Hall debate. Mr Salmon recently reiterated the benefits of the 24-hour service, stating that: “Air cover is there 24 hours every day of the year where previously we had just 12 hours a day.” However, in January, the NPAS helicopter responded to one out of six requests for assistance made between 8pm and 8am. The former Principal Crime and Intelligence Analyst for Dyfed Powys Police and Plaid Cymru’s candidate for Police Commissioner in May’s election, Dafydd Llywelyn, launched a ruthless attack on Commissioner Salmon. He said the concerns raised by Plaid Cymru during the campaign led by Jonathan Edwards MP have been realised within weeks of our dedicated helicopter being scrapped.
Dafydd Llywelyn said: “Let’s be under no illusion – this revelation is damning. With the current air support service hailed by Police Commissioner Salmon, Dyfed-Powys force and the residents it serves are receiving a worse service than the one we had before he took office. “As Plaid Cymru warned throughout last year, our force and our communities are playing second-fiddle to the needs of more urban Wales. Now we have confirmation that resources have been refused to our force because they are either busy elsewhere or because it would take too long to get to us. “In its first month 86% of requests for air support were not honoured. 83% of requests for air support after 8pm were not honoured. Christopher Salmon staked his reputation on a 24-hour service which we now know hardly exists. “We’re being told that some air support has been stood down because officers on the ground have resolved the situation. This suggests response times are increasing significantly. I’m also being told that front line officers know that air support is now less likely to be available and are not minded to put in requests.
That is deeply worrying indeed. “The information speaks for itself. By selling-off our dedicated helicopter and failing to oppose the centralisation agenda of his Conservative party colleagues, Christopher Salmon has failed the people of Dyfed-Powys and their police force.” Member of Parliament Jonathan Edwards led the campaign to helicopter. Last week he received a Grassroots Diplomat Award nomination for his campaign. Commenting on the lack of air support he said: “When it comes to police air support there is no joy whatsoever in being proved right. Every concern I raised in Parliament regarding resources not being available has been realised within the first four weeks of the service. “For the Police Commissioner to issue a press statement last week claiming the air service was ‘delivering’ is an absolute disgrace. It was nothing more than an attempt to mask the abject failure and damning results of his party’s centralisation agenda. He should make a public apology for his disingenuous statement.
“Christopher Salmon has presided over a catalogue of failures. If Dyfed Powys residents want a Police Commissioner that is going to stand up for their services they need to elect Dafydd Llywelyn on May 5.” Current Commissioner Christopher Salmon has already agreed to sell-off the Dyfed-Powys helicopter. Plaid Cymru officials say they have since submitted a further request for information on police air support throughout the month of February, and will continue to seek information for every month in order to expose the record of failure of the new service agreed by Christopher Salmon. Last week, following the release of the January/February figures, Mr Salmon said: “In January last year our own helicopter was out of action 10 days for maintenance. Other than during bad weather, as was the case with the previous service, I’m pleased that figures show the new arrangement is meeting our needs so far. “I am keeping a close eye on it to ensure that it delivers what we need. “It costs us £275,000 less too, with further savings of £75,000 from April this year.
I am determined to put that towards frontline officers to keep people safe.” Data for January 2015 shows that out of 24 requests for air assistance, 10 were attended. However, given that the Dyfed- Powys helicopter was out of action for 10 days for repairs, it is unclear which forces responded to the calls. The Herald asked Mr Salmon whether, given that over a comparative period only two calls were attended, whether the service was ‘meeting the needs’ of Dyfed-Powys residents. In his response, Mr Salmon prioritised the savings made possible by the new arrangement: “We now have 24-hour helicopter coverage for £275,000 less,” he said. “That money has helped me put more officers on our rural beats for more hours of every day. “Crime and antisocial behaviour have fallen further and faster in Dyfed-Powys than anywhere else in Wales. “Our rural areas are safer than ever.
“At two months old, this air service is still new. It is too early to say definitively how NPAS is performing but so far it appears to be meeting our needs. The Chief Constable and I will keep a very close eye on it to make sure it does.” The difference between the two statements, issued a week apart, is notable. In the first, Mr Salmon claimed the figures showed that ‘the new arrangement is meeting our needs so far.’ In the second, the Police and Crime Commissioner backtracked somewhat, claiming that it was ‘too early to say’ how the service was performing, but it ‘appears’ to be meeting the needs of Dyfed- Powys. As Mr Salmon belatedly said, a full analysis of the efficacy of the NPAS provision will take more than two months to develop. What is certain, however, is that the service will be u nder close scrutiny from all directions, especially with the approach of the Police and Crime Commissioner elections.
Ben Lake MP stands up for Ceredigion’s hospitality sector in Parliament
A WESTMINSTER Hall debate, brought about by an online petition signed over 200,000 times, saw MPs on both sides come together to shine a light on the challenges currently faced by restaurants, pubs, bars, cafés and supply chain businesses across the UK.
During his contribution to the debate, Ben Lake MP emphasised the importance of the hospitality industry to Ceredigion’s local economy. Ceredigion is home to nearly 400 food and accommodation businesses, including 75 pubs, and together hospitality businesses employ 4,500 people in the county. This equates to over 16% of all employees, without accounting for the many supply chain jobs that are dependent on the sector, such as those found in breweries, food wholesale, and catering equipment hire businesses.
Figures published by UK Hospitality have shown that approximately 41% of hospitality businesses suggested that they would fail by mid-2021 and only one in five sector businesses have enough cash flow to survive beyond February.
Ben Lake MP said: “The vaccination programme of course offers some hope that we will see the level of Covid disruption reduce significantly this year, but hospitality businesses across Ceredigion tell me that they are deeply concerned about their immediate prospects for survival.
“I support calls for the Treasury to provide additional funds so that businesses can be supported to bounce back once restrictions have been eased, and to pause employer national insurance contributions for furloughed employees as a way of alleviating the burden on businesses that are still, in many instances, required by law to close. I also urged the Treasury to consider extending the business rates holiday for the forthcoming financial year, as well as extending the hospitality VAT reduction scheme into 2022.
“Not only would these support measures give businesses the support they require to see out this pandemic, it would also avoid the terrible situation whereby businesses that have previously received Government support are forced to close for good – leaving their employees without a job and previous Government support in vain.”
While there will be no direct action as a consequence of this Westminster Hall debate, it is hoped the result will put increased pressure on the UK Government to consider the proposal more seriously.
Lifeboat Operations Manager in New Year’s Honours list
Richard Llewelyn Griffiths the Lifeboat Operations Manager of Aberystwyth Lifeboat Station has been recognised for services to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in Wales.
He has been awarded a BEM.
Having served as a RNLI volunteer for an impressive 47 years, it is his role in the last 21 years as Lifeboat Operations Manager (LOM) which has earned him the most respect.
His local knowledge has provided reassurance to casualties and crews alike when launching in difficult conditions.
His operational decision-making and station management skills are outstanding, and he is greatly valued by crew, management, volunteers and coastal personnel both past and present.
He has contributed greatly towards Aberystwyth being recognised as a ‘benchmark’ Inshore Lifeboat Station, serving as an example to the whole institution of how a station could and should be run.
Richard said: ‘I’m very surprised but honoured to be receiving a BEM – the news still doesn’t feel real. My father was awarded a BEM in 1988 and I still have his medal at home, so to be awarded one myself for my work with the lifeboats is a great privilege. I’ve been fortunate to work with a number of characters during my time with the RNLI – both at Borth and Aberystwyth – and continue to volunteer alongside a good crew today.’
Nationally, a total of six Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) volunteers have been recognised for their vital role in helping the charity save lives at sea through the New Year’s Honours.
Mark Dowie, RNLI Chief Executive said: ‘Following a challenging 2020, it is particularly pleasing to see these RNLI volunteers recognised in the New Year’s Honours list. Together, they personify the RNLI’s ‘One Crew’ ethos, representing the variety and diversity of roles from a former full-time mechanic to shore crew and fundraisers to station managers, who collectively deliver a shared vision to save every one. On behalf of everyone at the RNLI, congratulations to you all for being recognised for your longstanding service, hard work and selfless commitment. And thank you for everything you do to help the RNLI save lives at sea.’
Temporary closure of Minor Injuries Unit in Cardigan confirmed
AS PART of its response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Hywel Dda University Health Board says it has temporarily closed the Minor Injuries Unit (MIU) in Cardigan in order to redeploy clinical staff to support the COVID 19 response within Ceredigion.
The MIU, which is based in Cardigan Integrated Care Centre and normally operates from Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm, will temporarily close with immediate effect. The situation will be under constant review and normal service will be resumed when it is safe and appropriate to do so.
In the meantime, minor injuries help and advice is available as follows:
– visit the 111 symptom checker (https://111.wales.nhs.uk/)
– visit your local pharmacy
– call 111
– please do NOT self-present to the GP reception in Cardigan Integrated Care Centre as they do not deal with minor injuries.
– for emergency care the A+E departments are as follows:
· Glangwili Hospital A+E Carmarthen SA32 2AF
· Bronglais Hospital A+E Aberystwyth SY23 1ER
· Withybush Hospital A+E Haverfordwest SA61 2PZ